GRAND FORKS — As meteorologists continue to monitor a weekend winter storm, confidence is increasing that the Red River Valley will see significant impacts, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Grafenauer.
"There are such things like precise timing and degree of the impact and snowfall amounts, exact wind speeds and how that relates to blowing snow, that remain uncertain," Grafenauer said. "But the chances for six inches or more snow are fairly high."
A winter storm warning has been issued for much of eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota for 6 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 28, through 6 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 29, as the NWS forecasts from 6 to 12 inches of snow and winds gusting up to 50 mph.
As of Friday night, WDAY meteorologist Andrew Whitmyer predicted 8 to 16 inches of snow could fall between Saturday and Monday in a northeast-curving swath extending from South Dakota into eastern North Dakota and across northern Minnesota, affecting cities including Fargo, Grand Forks and Bemidji.
Windy conditions combined with light ice accumulations also brings the possibility of falling tree branches and ensuing power outages. Xcel Energy is already gearing up crews who will work to get the lights back on if customers lose power during the storm, according to Christine Ouellette, senior media relations representative.
An area of light snowfall will move through the region Saturday, Dec. 28, bringing a few inches of snow. Heavy snow and winds are expected to begin Saturday night. Grafenauer said some areas could see snowfall rates of up to an inch per hour.
Snowy and windy conditions are expected to last at least through Sunday night and possibly into the week, with the most hazardous part of the storm expected to hit late Saturday night through Sunday night.
In a winter storm briefing held Friday, Dec. 27, NWS meteorologist Ryan Knutsvig said the storm also brings a chance of freezing rain to eastern North Dakota and west-central and northwest Minnesota. The heaviest impacts will be seen in southeast North Dakota, with Fargo also receiving some of the heaviest winter impacts.
He said residents should expect periodic whiteout conditions making travel difficult to impossible.
While the storm could bring up to a quarter-inch of icing, Knutsvig said the majority of the hazards will come from the heavy snow accumulations, gusty winds and blowing and drifting snow.
"We're kind of in the sweet spot for the snow in the Red River Valley and then down southwestward into South Dakota," he said.
Anyone who can't avoid traveling over the weekend should be sure to keep an extra flashlight, food and water in their vehicle in case of an emergency.
Weather conditions heading toward the Minneapolis area are warmer, and the area is expected to receive cold rain over the weekend.
Grafenauer said the National Weather Service will continue updating the forecast as it becomes more certain about precise timing, location and snowfall amounts.
"The most important part is to continue checking the forecast," he said. "That's probably the best way to stay prepared and informed about what's coming up."